How Insurance Covers Acts of God

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“Acts of God” are sudden, unexpected events that can't be controlled or protected against. Act of God insurance refers to any kind of insurance that protects against these events. When it comes to car insurance, act of God insurance sometimes refers to comprehensive coverage. For homeowners insurance, you're protected against some acts of God, such as wind, with a standard policy, while others, like flooding, require a special endorsement.

What Is an Act of God?

In the realm of insurance, an act of God colloquially refers to any event that occurs outside of human control and that can't be predicted or prevented. The term is roughly analogous to a natural disaster. Things like earthquakes, severe weather and floods are all considered acts of God. Additionally, the root cause of damage is what's considered: a fire caused by poor wiring is not an act of God, but one caused by a lightning strike is.

However, insurance policies don't use the phrase "Act of God;" they only describe specific events. And different types of insurance (such as automobile and homeowners) cover acts of God in different ways.

Are Acts of God Covered by Automobile Insurance?

Automobile insurance generally includes coverage for acts of God under comprehensive coverage. Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to your vehicle caused by anything other than a collision—in addition to acts of God, it covers you for things like vandalism, fire and terrorism. Comprehensive coverage is optional, so you're protected from natural disasters and other unpredictable phenomena if you've chosen to include it on your car insurance policy.

Keep in mind that insurers will look for alternate causes of the damage before paying out under comprehensive coverage. For example, if a tree on your property is blown over in a storm and falls on your car, that's covered. However, if it turns out that your tree was rotten and should have been cut down, you may not receive a payout for the damage, as your negligence was a partial cause.

Are Acts of God Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

The relationship between acts of God and homeowners insurance is more complicated. “Act of God” isn't a category of coverage in home insurance policies: Some acts of God are covered under homeowners insurance, but others are not. Typically, damage due to wind, rain or hail is covered under standard homeowners policies. But damage due to earthquakes, volcanoes and floods generally isn't. The only way to find out for sure whether you're protected against a particular cause of damage is to read through your policy carefully and ask your insurance agent for clarification if you're unsure.

Additionally, the type of homeowners insurance policy you have can affect what causes of damage, or perils, you're covered for. The most common type of homeowners insurance, called HO-3, insures the structure of your home for every peril except for things that are specifically excluded. However, if you have a more limited policy such as HO-1 or HO-2, you're only covered for the perils specifically named in your policy, and nothing else.

Some acts of God are covered in all homeowners policy types, including wind, lightning and hail. Likewise, some are excluded in all policies, such as earthquakes and floods. However, there are some differences: For example, HO-1 policies do not cover damage due to weight of snow, while HO-2 and HO-3 policies do cover it.

One final note: In cases where you are covered for natural disasters, insurance companies may look to other possible causes of the damage to determine whether to pay for the loss. For example, if a wild animal gets loose in your yard and damages your property, that would be covered. However, if your neighbor's pet is responsible for the damage, you may need to file a claim under your neighbor’s homeowners liability coverage instead.

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